When fans hear the name Gracie, they usually think of a skinny 180-pound man named Royce who revolutionized the Ultimate Fighting Championship as we know it today.
What Royce Gracie accomplished in the early days of the UFC was truly remarkable. Back then, there were no rules and there weren't any weight classes.
Heck, there weren't even rounds or time limits. Rather than having a fighter train for six weeks to prepare for one particular opponent, early UFC competitors would sometimes fight up to four times in a single night. From UFC 1 to UFC 5, Royce was the star attraction, dominating much larger opponents with what was known as Gracie Jiu-Jitsu.
Unfortunately, Royce failed to reestablish his dominance when making his return to the Octagon against then-UFC welterweight champion Matt Hughes . On that night, it was Gracie's first UFC fight since going to a draw with Ken Shamrock at UFC 5 in 1996.
A lot had changed since then, and MMA transformed from an anything goes spectacle into a pure combat sport. The UFC added an influx of rules and weight divisions as well as rounds and a judging system. Not only that, but the fighters began mixing techniques from various styles and evolved into complete warriors with skills in all areas of the game.
In Royce's prime he was king of the ultimate fighting mountain, but Hughes completely man-handled him in their fight at UFC 60. Royce did not have an answer for the relentless wrestling and pure strength of the welterweight champ, and he was exposed as irrelevant in today's world of fighting.
Now, four years later another Gracie will have the opportunity to avenge his family's defeat. 42-year-old Renzo Gracie will make his long awaited UFC debut against Hughes at UFC 112 : Invincible in Abu Dhabi.
Despite a long and proficient career in mixed martial arts, Renzo has never competed in the sport's largest promotion. At the age of 42, some will argue that it may be a little too late for the BJJ phenom to step into the UFC's Octagon, especially against an accomplished ex-champion in Hughes.
In Gracie's mind, it's better late than never, and he feels he is finally at a point in his life where he can fully focus on his MMA career.
"I've wanted to fight in the UFC for a long, long time. But over the last few years I needed to clear up my life?my business?before I could concentrate 100 percent on training for the UFC. And you need to be a full-time, 100 percent of the time, athlete to fight in the UFC, but my businesses needed my attention until recently," Gracie told Yahoo Sports' Kevin Iole in a recent interview.
"There was a time when I was training people six and seven days a week, with classes all day, plus being a husband and a father and I could not train myself to where I needed to be to fight in the UFC," he added. "Now, though, all I have to do is get ready for Matt Hughes . That's my life for the next [several] weeks: Getting ready to beat Hughes."
But realistically, does the 42-year old submission ace have a better shot at turning Hughes into a life-sized Pretzel than his cousin Royce?
One important factor that should be noted is that Renzo is not Royce. In fact he is much better than the UFC hall of famer when it comes to MMA.
Royce was very stubborn in his approach to the fight game. He believed that his style of Jiu-Jitsu was all that was needed to be successful in the Octagon. Renzo has a different mind-set in the sense that he trains to become a complete mixed martial artist.
Clearly his Jiu-Jitsu base is his main strength and is what the legendary black belt excels in, but he also works diligently on his standup and wrestling technique to boot.
On the contrary, other than Randy Couture , not many 40-something year old fighters can be competitive in the UFC. We haven't seen Renzo fight in over three years, as the last time he fought in MMA was in 2007 against Frank Shamrock at Elite XC: Destiny.
The odds are unquestionably stacked against the middle-aged Gracie, but writing a fighter off based purely on his age is asinine, to say the least. Every athlete ages at a different rate, and since we haven't seen Gracie fight in quite some time, it is currently unknown if he is washed up or if he can still prove to be relevant in the sport.
One of Renzo's prized students and fellow Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt, Ricardo Almeida recently discussed his master's return to fighting and how it will prove to be a much different outcome than when Royce was defeated by Hughes.
"If you look at all the guys Renzo fought, it's guys who are past UFC champions," Almeida told MMA Junkie. "Not to take anything away from Royce, but they had different careers. Royce started it all while Renzo was the one running with the flag the whole time."
Hughes is coming off of a closely contested unanimous decision victory over former champion Matt Serra at UFC 98. Serra was actually the first American black belt under Renzo, so this is a situation where the master must defend his student. Gracie will be looking to avenge Serra's loss by leaving the Octagon with one of Hughes' limbs in a doggy bag.
Time will tell if the iconic Gracie will be able to pick up where his cousin failed and get past the powerful Hughes.
One thing is for certain, though: Renzo is here to stay. His fight with the former champion will be the first bout on his newly signed six-fight deal with the UFC, so regardless of the outcome on April 10, Gracie is in this for the long-run and determined to end his career with the UFC title on his list of achievements.
Hughes is likely going to be viewed as an overwhelming favorite, but do not underestimate the power of a Gracie.
This article was originally featured on Five Knuckles